23 March 2011

Asked & Answered, Or What I Learned in History Class

Reading around on some photo-related blogs today, I realized that two apparently different questions prompt pretty much the same answer.
Q: What are unions good for (besides, weekends, vacations, minimum wage and working hours standards, of course)?
A: They help keep companies from killing employees (for the historically challenged - look here).

Q: What is photojournalism good for?
A: It helps keep companies from killing employees (same episode, slightly different lesson).
As I've pointed out here before, while critics like Sontag complain that photography has grown up hand-in-hand with war, it has grown up hand-in-hand with democracy too. Sometimes it is a good thing to remind ourselves of that.

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Blogger Joe Zammit-Lucia said...

I have followed with interest your coverage of the union issues. I believe it is time to move beyond the simplistic 'all unions are good' vs 'all unions are bad' debate. Unions emerged at a time when they had become very necessary and they have done much good over the decades. Today times have changed and many unions have changed with the times. In Europe the nature of labor relations has been transformed - to the benefit of all. However, other unions have not changed and are still living the battles of a past age. Some businesses are good and managed by great people. Others not. Some have moved into the 21st century, others are dying clinging to centuries past. The same variety, I suggest, may be found in unions.

Personally, I am surprised at how many unions in the US still adopt a tone, language and approach that European unions have long left behind. Why is that?

24 March, 2011 20:57  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...


I have no desire to whitewash the problems of unions - especially re: internal democracy ... and I do not want to excuse excesses (like being able to cash in on your pension before standard retirement age - which I define as social security eligible - and then simultaneously hold another full-time job). SO I suspect that we may have common views in part.

That said, the notion that our current fiscal woes are due to public sector unions is laughable. Think military budget. Think tax breaks for collective entities like corporations. (In the news this afternoon we learn that GE paid not a dime in federal taxes for 2010!) Think tax free services to non=profits like my own University. Think institutional pathologies and corruption in state government (NY is the poster child).

The current assault on unions is ideologically inspired pure and simple. And it is crucially important to remind people (especially those who have been free-riders on the struggles of labor organizations) that many of the things we take for granted are victories that unions won. Fact, no brag.


25 March, 2011 14:23  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Joe- I have been both saved and left out to twist in the wind by unions- yes, they do, very much, vary in effectiveness. But here in the States, they're the only crumb left- and the reason many still speak the same language as their forefathers is because we are still fighting many of the same problems as yesteryear, and in many cases, workers rights have regressed. Europe has, for the most part, better integrated workers' rights- that's why they're better able to "work to live" while we still have to "live to work." Big difference.

26 March, 2011 13:16  

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